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Nikon's D80: Big Chip, Svelte Body
A 10-plus Megapixel DSLR For Under a Grand

By Allan Weitz

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For the second time in as many months we have been treated to the announcement of a 10-plus megapixel DSLR for under $1000. This time the news is from Nikon, which should make a whole lot of hard-core Nikon aficionados crack out the bubbly. While we haven't had a chance to fully test-drive the new camera, we did have a quick hands-on tour courtesy of Nikon's Paul Van Allen.

The new camera, a.k.a. the Nikon D80, is a high-resolution, yet lightweight addition to Nikon's DSLR product line-up. The big news is the inclusion of Nikon's 10.2-megapixel CCD imaging sensor, the same sensor found in the D200, not to mention Sony's Alpha D100. As for image quality, the D80 utilizes similar 12-bit image processing as found in its heftier siblings, the D200 and D2xs. In fact, we just might have a winner for the rather esteemed "Best-Bang-for-the-Buck" Award.

Resolution aside, the new camera contains many subtle and not-so-subtle improvements over the D70/D70s. Near instantaneous start-up time (0.18 sec), indiscernible shutter lag time (80-miliseconds), burst rates of up to 100 JPEGs at 3 frames-per-second, up to 2700 exposures per battery charge (including a handy Battery Info window), and 11 points of focus (4 of which lie within the 'rule of thirds' intersection) should guarantee far fewer missed shots and far more images that are right on the money.

Dead-on exposures can be attributed to Nikon's 3D Color Matrix Metering II, which incorporates subject-to-camera distance ('D- technology') into the equation when figuring out the precise exposure, as well as Variable Center-Weighted and Spot metering. A data base of over 30,000 real-world lighting scenarios are stored within the exposure system as reference points for establishing the best possible exposure.

Equally notable is the inclusion of a few neat image edition applications that enable you to enhance your images before they leave the camera's womb. 'D-Lighting', maintains highlight details and opens up shadows, similar to the Levels and Curves adjustments you make in Photoshop. Other applications designed to make you look good include an easy to apply Red Eye Fixer, the ability to overlay 2 non-sequential NEF files together, multiple exposure capability, a choice of 3 monochrome modes (B&W, Sepia, and Cyanotype), and a choice of ‘filters' that emulate the look of Skylight, Warm Tone, and other custom color effects. The results of each of these effects can be easily previewed on the camera's bright 2.5" color LCD before you hit the save button. Your screw-in filter inventory has just been reduced to a decent UV protector and a circular Polarizer.

For recording your images the Nikon D80 utilizes SD as well as the newest higher speed, higher capacity SDHC cards, which are currently available in size capacities of up to 2-gigs.

To go along with the new camera Nikon has also released the AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-135/3.5~5.6G IF-ED (27~202.5mm equivalent) that contains aspherical lens elements and a Silent Wave Motor for quick response times.

A box of donuts says the Nikon D80 will be equally, if not more successful than the previous generation D70-series cameras from Nikon. On price-point alone, the D80 will be finding its way into the camera bags of Nikon-based pro shooters as inexpensive backup bodies for their D2X systems.

The Nikon D80 body, and Nikon D80 kits with either the 18-135 or the 18-55 Nikkor lenses are expected to ship in September, 2006.

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